Meet Sallie: Mental Health First Aider

Sallie Chapman heads up the Death in Custody Review Service and has helped to build the reputation of the service and attract new contracts since it first began in 2014. In addition to her day job Sallie is a Mental Health First Aider, providing support and a listening ear to anyone in the organisation who is struggling with their mental wellbeing.

Why did you decide to become a Mental Health First Aider?

Some years ago, completely out of nowhere, I suffered a mental breakdown. In the months running up to this, things simply didn’t appear right and the way I was responding to daily occurrences became very strange. I did my best to pretend things were fine, but everything became a challenge and I was in complete denial that my behaviour was different.

What people don’t understand about Mental illness is the toll it takes on that individual, you know the thoughts you have do not make sense but it feels like there is nothing you can do about it to change it. In my case I had thoughts of wandering off and didn’t want to be left on my own. My mind played tricks on me and told me bad things could happen if I did wander off and people would never find me. The thought of being alone for a second led to massive panic. Fortunately my family rallied around, and eventually I was diagnosed with something called Safety Depression

Because of my own issues, I am very passionate about the effects of mental health on individuals and that’s why I am a Mental Health First Aider. Mental Health First Aiders are not here to tell people what to do, but to listen and steer people in the right direction to get whatever help or support they need. If I have managed to help or support just one person through this time, I will be extremely proud.

Do people value this support at work? 

I think people do. Not everyone finds it easy to talk about their problems, but I think people are encouraged to talk about issues more these days so find it easier to reach out for help, rather than thinking if I ask for help that will affect my job. So Spectrum having mental health first aiders shows their understanding and compassion for this subject.

When it comes to mental health, is stigma still a problem?

Awareness of issues has improved massively in the last few years and people are encouraged to talk about things more. But there is still a long way to go. I don’t think the old stigma of, if you have a mental illness you must be mad or crazy exists now, but I do still think people are often afraid to open up or admit they are struggling

How important is mental health to you? 

As you can see from my story above, mental health is extremely important to me, both for my own mental health and the mental health of other people around me. My husband is also very passionate about this and is also a trained Mental Health First Aider.

It has been well over 10 years now since I had my breakdown and the odd thought still comes in to my head from time to time but I have the mechanisms to be able to deal with them and they don’t become an issue in my day to day life. I still take a tablet a day, but if taking one tablet keeps me in the here and now its all worth it in my book.

What’s your number 1 ‘top tip’ for maintaining positive mental health? 

Don’t forget Mental health is like physical health. We sometimes have good and bad physical health. If you were feeling unwell physically, you would do something about it and get help. So why wouldn’t you ask for help if your mental health isn’t right? If you feel things are getting on top of you, talk to someone before it escalates, it can help you make sense of it all or it can make you feel better just getting it out in the open.